Make us your home page
Instagram

Notable entrepreneurs spring from Tampa Bay area

Got to love entrepreneurs. Taking an idea and truly running with it. Better yet, failing at a few ideas first and still running with more. That dust-yourself-off intensity is a linchpin of our economy — especially here in a Tampa Bay world dominated by small businesses. That build-something enthusiasm bloomed in recent conversations with many of the founders and chief executive officers of 10 feisty area businesses vying in Ernst & Young's annual statewide competition to be crowned Entrepreneur of the Year.

The competition is judged by an independent panel of veteran entrepreneurs. Winners, to be named Thursday, will compete nationally.

I was delighted to learn that, in 23 years of annual contests, Florida kicks butt at the national level. More national winners have emerged from the Sunshine State than any other, says Ernst & Young's Mike Brennan in Tampa, who runs the statewide event.

"We get a lot of second and third serial entrepreneurs who move to Florida after they made money somewhere else," Brennan says. "Then they get antsy and start a new business."

Want to get fired up amid a gloomy recession? Talk to these can-do business folks.

Perhaps the modern kingpin of entrepreneurs, a national Ernst & Young winner who in 2005 even went on to win at the global level, is Floridian Wayne Huizenga. He founded such businesses as Blockbuster, Waste Management, Extended Stay America and AutoNation and is the only person ever to found three Fortune 1000 companies. Huizenga even named his yacht Floridian.

"Wayne Huizenga?" says a reverent Omar Soliman, founder of Tampa's College Hunks Hauling Junk. "He's like the Michael Jordan of entrepreneurs."

Tampa Bay's 10 finalists — that's 10 out of 24 finalists statewide — range from the 27-year-old junk hauler Soliman to 64-year-old Dr. Stephen Dickey. His Doctor's Walk-In Clinics pioneered no-appointment, low-cost clinics here three decades ago, and he's still expanding. Fitness/health industry CEOs include TV infomercial hall of famer Tony Little and Ironman promoter Ben Fertic.

That's serious diversity.

Every single one I talked to seems supercharged. They are enthusiastic about what they do and disciplined in how they execute their business strategy. They go out of their way to say they're thrilled and humbled to have made it this far in the competition. Those with some gray hair also acknowledge their own limits and repeatedly point out how they surround themselves with strong, smart managers.

Finalists compete based on their category of business. Winners are crowned at a black-tie event Thursday and will compete at the national level in November in Palm Springs, Calif., at a week-long entrepreneurfest. Jay Leno will host the national awards ceremony.

Past national winners include Tampa's own Outback Steakhouse founders, Chris Sullivan, Bob Basham and Tim Gannon; Michael Dell of Dell Computers; and Starbucks' Howard Schultz.

Who, among these Tampa Bay 10, might make that leap?

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

College Hunks Hauling Junk, Tampa

CEO: Omar Soliman, 27

Category: Emerging

What's so special: Half the age of many. Likes Nike slogan: Just Do It. Sold 20 franchises. Picked Tampa for 1-800-JUNK-USA call center. Eager!

AnazaoHealth Corp., Tampa

CEO: Jake Beckel, 54

Category: Health services

What's so special: Seventh startup and counting. Loved Good to Great book, now Firms of Endearment on community help. Pharmacist. Customize!

Doctor's Walk-In Clinic, Tampa

Founder/VP operations: Stephen F. Dickey, M.D., 64

Category: Health services

What's so special: Eight walk-ins, rattled area status quo 29 years ago as convenient option to pricey ER. Sold it last year to Med Express. Still dedicated!

Ironman Corp., Tampa

CEO: Benjamin Fertic, 40

Category: Marketing, media

What's so special: What tops Ironman as active lifestyle brand? Anything is possible slogan. In 23 countries. Providence Equity big shareholder. Set a goal!

PostcardMania, Clearwater

CEO: Joy Gendusa, 44

Category: Marketing, media

What's so special: Brainstorms, prints, ships direct mail postcards for businesses. Working 10 times as hard in recession. Only female CEO on list. Teamwork!

Health International Corp., St. Petersburg

CEO: Tony Little, 52

Category: Marketing, media

What's so special: Infomercial legend pushing personal brand into clothing, shoes, pillows, even buffalo meat (Body by Bison). Soon, a bio book. Motivate!

Beef 'O' Brady's, Tampa

CEO: Chuck Winship, 53

Category: Retail, consumer

What's so special: Family sports pub chain born in Brandon, 270 locations, big expansion plans. Jumps into locations where others fail. Experiment!

Valet Waste, Tampa

CEO: Michael K. Ferris, 38

Category: Services

What's so special: Only doorstep, five-night-a-week trash/recycling in multihousing. Early "greenie." Goal: In every major metro in five years. Groundbreaker!

Fintech, Tampa

CEO: Scott Riley, 55

Category: Services

What's so special: Niche: Process 200,000 daily electronic invoices for alcohol between distributors, retailers. Took 17 years to reach 50 states. Perseverance!

Tribridge, Tampa

CEO: Tony DiBenedetto, 43

Category: Technology

What's so special: Fan of "fast failure." Innovate, but pull plug on no-go ideas and move on. Challenge at will. Communicate! Collaborate!

Notable entrepreneurs spring from Tampa Bay area 06/08/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 9, 2009 10:33am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Bucs and Bucks: HBO's Hard Knocks series boosts local businesses

    Business

    TAMPA — Men can enjoy yoga, including the most athletic ones. That is the message that the co-founder of Camp Tampa, a fitness studio located in South Tampa, wants to push after a few Tampa Bay Buccaneers players were shown practicing on HBO's television series Hard Knocks.

    Longtime hairstylist, Katie Ellwood styles Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander's hair last week at New Identities Hair Studio of Tampa Palms. The camera crew follows Kwon Alexander and other Bucs players during the team's training camp for the HBO show "Hard Knocks," a documentary television series about the ups and downs of an NFL training camp. [Courtesy of New Identities Hair Studio]
  2. Old Time Pottery adds store in Largo

    Business

    LARGO — A home decor and furniture store opened Thursday at 1111 Missouri Ave. N, according to a news release from the Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce. This is Old Time Pottery's fourth location in the Tampa Bay area, joining stores in Kenneth City, New Port Richey and Brandon. The company, which has 41 …

  3. Tampa Bay has two new million-dollar ZIP Code areas — is yours one of them?

    Real Estate

    You might not be a millionaire, but chances are greater now that you live in a million-dollar Tampa Bay neighborhood.

    Tampa's ZIP Code 33606 is among the six bay area ZIPs in which at  least 10 percent of the homes are worth $1 million or more. This  Davis Islands home sold in January for $6.275 million. {Courtesy of Smith & Associates]
  4. Powerball jackpot climbs to $510 million, 8th largest

    Nation

    DES MOINES, Iowa — The Powerball jackpot has climbed to an estimated $510 million, making it one of the largest in U.S. history.

    A store clerk pulls a Powerball ticket from the printer for a customer, Tuesday, in Hialeah, Fla. The Powerball jackpot has has rolled 18 times, since the June 14, drawing, resulting in an estimated $510 million for Wednesday night's drawing. [Associated Press]
  5. Security threat leads Florida to cancel prison visitation

    Crime

    TALLAHASSEE — Visitation to all Florida state prisons has been canceled this weekend after evidence surfaced that inmates are planning possible uprisings to coincide with Saturday's march for prisoners' human rights in Washington, D.C.